Helping bring the Grand Rapids Urban Forest Project to life.

Prior to relocating to Grand Rapids, my experience with this city has been limited. Sure, I’d visited for a wedding or two. I’ve come for a conference, but I’ve never had the chance to fully experience the city. Regardless of my lack of experience with your city, recent progress towards Green initiatives makes Grand Rapids an exciting place for a urban forester to land.

Prior to coming here, I spent time in Detroit managing large-scale tree plantings and green infrastructure projects for the Greening of Detroit. Having studied forest management, I never intended on making a career of Urban Forestry. But fresh out of Graduate School, it’s where the jobs were. Moreover, urban forestry lends me the opportunity to experience urban areas, and work more closely with people and communities. Not to mention, I’m an avid food enthusiast and the mix of cultures within cities (like Detroit and Grand Rapids) offers me considerable dining opportunities (I’m currently taking suggestions).

Detroit is a city that tends to generate strong opinions; many of them negative. However, Detroit is a city of opportunity. The lack of complex organization and ordinances combined with lax enforcement lends itself to the potential for a variety of alternative solutions to urban problems. Where more traditional governments might tightly control, restrict, and otherwise regulate urban agriculture, green-space development, and tree plantings, Detroit lacks the resources. Therefore, Detroit has become an exciting experiment in self governance and the development of community-based solutions to urban environmental problems. While Grand Rapids is a progressive city in many regards, there are certain movements happening within Detroit that can be learned from, and applied strategically to continuing the green development on the west side of the state.

Where Grand Rapids might not have as lax civic leadership and enforcement, it make up for in the level of citizen engagement and progressive attitudes towards urban issues.  In my short time here, I can already sense a level of civic commitment to working together to solve problems, examine unique solutions, and collaborate on achieving community goals. Such efforts have been specifically highlighted in the Green Grand Rapids plan and subsequent movement towards accomplishing those goals.

That is why I’m especially excited to continue efforts with the Urban Forest Project. From engaging citizens through tree-mapping, to hosting classes and advocating for ordinance changes, I know the citizens of Grand Rapids are considerate and thoughtful when it comes to urban resources and the character of their city. While individuals may disagree from time to time the best course of action, there is an undisputed commitment to ensuring our environmental impact is understood and mitigated.

The understanding of the importance of trees and the urban forest to a complete urban environment is quickly gaining acceptance. In Grand Rapids, there is already substantial leadership in harmonizing the urban environment with the natural one. For these reasons, I think Grand Rapids will become a leader in urban forest growth and protection, and I am excited to be a part of it.

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